“Quiet quitting” was, for me, one of the saddest business trends of 2022. While the nuances vary, essentially this refers to employees who have completely disengaged from their work but continue to collect a paycheck. This passive, disconnected attitude serves virtually no one and speaks to the record levels of dissatisfaction the workplace is currently experiencing.
Some claim that “quiet quitting” is an example of a younger generation’s fragility or self-entitlement. The more cynical among us point to the shrinking labor pool being exploited by unmotivated workers enjoying new leverage. However, as an HR professional with thirty-five years of experience dealing with workers, managers, and business leaders, I can attest there is no such thing as generational laziness. Workers are effective when they’re engaged. Individuals may underperform because of unique circumstances, but entire age groups do not simply adopt lazy entitlement as a universal character flaw.
Too often, culture is merely aspirational in businesses. Leaders have innovative imaginations, and they conceive great things about their organizations. However, many fail to ensure that their culture and mission statements successfully drive behaviors and decisions. This includes the more mundane processes of hiring, workflow, and management. Printed on a poster, cultural values might seem flashy and appealing, but if the reality of the workplace contradicts those values, workers in the trenches will be the first to feel the discrepancy.
I have found that workers lacking a sense of their impact—failing to see the importance of their work in the overall mission of an organization—tend to stop caring. We all need to feel valued and have a sense of purpose if we’re going to stay productive over the long haul. I believe the main issue we currently face is the gap between what a business wants its workers to feel and the reality of those workers’ experiences when the rubber meets the road.
Furthermore, no amount of compensation in pay or benefits can overcome this problem. You can lavish generous holiday bonuses across the hierarchy, but you’ll never bridge this gap without strengthening a sense of belonging and communicating regularly with employees. It is vital that leaders ensure their employees understand the organizational mission. They need to be supported to align with that mission and held accountable for doing so. Finally, leaders must take time to show genuine appreciation.
There are a number of ways to achieve these goals: survey your workers to better understand their actual experiences; hire and retain managers who prioritize communication; routinely acknowledge the achievements of all workers, explicitly linking those milestones to the organizational mission; stand by the non-negotiables of your culture with the willingness to terminate people for toxic behavior, even if they “get things done”; and ensure workers are in the roles best suited to the goals and values of the organization. At TGC, we help organizations find success in all these areas.
Most importantly, this is not a one-and-done process. Organizations need ongoing transparency and open communication built into every workplace function if they are to overcome the engagement deficit currently plaguing business cultures. If you fear your employees are “quiet quitting,” that’s an invitation for deeper self-reflection on your culture. It’s time to take the pulse of your workforce’s well-being, considering their expectations along with your own.